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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Yoder, Race, and Liberation

In conversation with a friend studying theology in Scotland, Scott Prather (see his recent article, "The Body and Human Identity in Postmodernism and Orthodoxy," in American Theological Inquiry), I was thinking about how late-twentieth century theological movements. We share an interest in Yoder's theology and in the renewal of churches overwhelmed by the culture of race, capital, and empire. I put together a few thoughts that address some of the intellectual and ecclesial agenda I am in the midst of in these days.

One thing that has changed about my theological work since leaving graduate school is that I do not tend to look at flawed approaches as reasons to disavow others' theological writing. So although I can find things to disagree with in much Latin American liberation theology, whether it be elements of modern politics too intermingled with ecclesiology, or aspects of RCC doctrines that I find problematic, or sociological models that repristinate the policing of religion to the margin, I just set those parts aside and mine the stuff that represents what I would classify as faithful theological reflection. It would not sell in a dissertation, but I'm not working on that agenda any more.

So when I read the liberation theologians, I figure that what they set out to do is not so different from what I am setting out to do. Where they help me, I use them. And they are way more useful to me than so many evangelicals who can't see past the end of their statements on inerrancy or satisfaction, or the mainstream protestants who are convinced that the nut of the gospel is the equivalent of the nut of American democracy.

Yoder has the resources for a theology of race which he never adequately developed, nor did he demonstrate a full understanding of the implications of race for his dialogue with black theologies and ecclesiologies. That is, by making his concept of Constantinianism absorb so many diverse failures of the church, Yoder did not name adequately what whiteness is and what it does to the churches. Ultimately theologians like influenced by Yoder must dredge the wells of white theology to see how the construction of whiteness has poisoned generations.

I have been thinking about the commonalities of Yoder and the black theologians and other liberation theologians for some time. Having spent some time reading liberation theologies this year, I still find the commonality compelling in the basic backbone:

  • a living, breathing, human Jesus;
  • the political nature of the messiah;
  • Jesus representing an oppressed, poor, minority;
  • the minority position/option for the poor;
  • the critique of Constantinianism/Capitalism/National Security state;
  • the making of a new, called-out community;
  • the pneumatological driving force of the church linked with a bottom-up ecclesiology;
  • the critique of ecclesial political establishments;
  • the turn to the marginalized;
  • the theological engagement with practices;
  • the value and critique of tradition;
  • perpetual reform/evangelization of the church;
and on and on.

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